Strange things happen everywhere, but some of the strangest happen only in China. Believe it or not, from this week the government is sending out two virtual police officers to patrol the Internet in its attempt to fight online pornography. China already censors everything in cyberspace and this is another attempt that might prompt activists to make shriller noise about their human rights being snatched by a Communist government.
Freedom of speech and right to information are values not necessarily advocated in the cavernous halls around Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but the mandarins are clear: they don’t want dirty websites “damaging young people’s hearts.”
So a man and a woman on motorcycles, in a car or on foot, will start appearing at the bottom of computers in China every half hour, reminding users they are being watched and it’s time to move on to doing something more permissible. According to state media, the virtual police officers will be on the prowl looking for websites that also incite secession, promote superstition, gambling and fraud.
Concerns over moral policing apart, there is a lot going for the Chinese virtual police who will definitely be hard at work 24 hours looking over the more than 160 million Internet users in that country. At least there is a government that is making the effort to keep a check on the vile things that spread over the Internet. Here in India, pornography is a click away and believe me, there are no virtual cops around.
The problem is real and a tough one to address. While the number of Internet users in China increased by 620 per cent between 2000 and 2007, according to www.internetworldstats.com, the growth in India has been 740 per cent –– from a mere 5 million in 2000 to an estimated 42 million this year. One could contend that the penetration as percentage of population is small; the fact is that it is growing fast and the biggest increase is understandably among the youth.
China’s efforts to wipe out cybersex is not limited to posting virtual cops, it comes down hard on those caught running such websites and, if you are to believe state-run media, set examples for those who could still be wandering around seeking carnal pleasures on the Internet.
In April this year, the Chinese government launched a campaign to free the Internet of pornography –– an attempt designed not to completely purge objectionable sexual content but more as one that would restrict its spread. Hundreds of websites have been shut down and people arrested for running them and making money from users.
The extent of the problem among the youth of China is visible in the government’s plan to launch an experimental camp for dozens of youngsters addicted to online gaming, cybersex and online pornography to wean them off the Internet. New Internet cafes are also being banned.
What do we do? The situation is messy, big time. In a country like ours where moral policing is unacceptable and laws lax, it is well nigh impossible to curb Internet pornography. A quick search would throw up millions of websites that can not only be easily accessed but are also free, encouraging youngsters to delve deeper into those servers that throw up images not easily understood by them.
While I was growing up, sex was not discussed at dinner tables. In most Indian homes, it isn’t even now. Should we then bring in the virtual cops to patrol cyberspace where our youngsters spend a lot of time these days? May not be a bad idea.
What do you think? Why not write to us with your views?